'Promising Young Woman' isn't asking for your approval. But it'll keep you talking
Carey Mulligan plays Cassandra in Emerald Fennell's Promising Young Woman. (Focus functions)
A young woman who appears to be very drunk is brought home by a young man who pretends to protect her from other, more predatory men. Back in his place, he is instantly everywhere on her, even if she can neither agree nor defend herself.
Suddenly she sits up, actually quite sober, very clear and purposefully asks the simple question: "What are you doing?"
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This question from her opening moments forms a kind of thesis for the film “Promising Young Woman”, a darkly comical, deadly serious story about rape culture, power dynamics between men and women and personal responsibility, which is based on a confectionery aesthetic with bright colors and sugary colors Pop music. In a way, the movie is like the lights going on in a club at the end of the night and what once felt seductive is instantly exposed as shabby.
“What interested me so much, and what I enjoyed so much about this film, was that we all live in fear of being discovered as bad people. It's a human thing, ”said writer and director Emerald Fennell. “It doesn't matter what the context is, who it is. Everyone wakes up every day thinking that they are good.
“This is a movie about people who think they are good. And then a woman who shows up in the middle of the night and tells them that they are not good. And so is the thing of "what are you doing?" Deeply frightening. What do we do?"
The film marks the feature film debut for Fennell, who stars as Camilla Parker-Bowles in "The Crown" and was the showrunner in the second season of "Killing Eve". "Promising Young Woman" premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and was originally scheduled to be released by Focus Features in the spring, but has been delayed due to the pandemic and will now hit theaters on Christmas Day and, in some cases, VOD weeks.
The film is already building steady momentum in the awards season and has become one of the leading conversation pieces of the season. The Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. Mulligan named Best Actress and Fennell named Best Screenplay. (Full disclosure: This author is a member.) The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. classified the film from comedy to drama for the Golden Globes.
In the film, Cassandra (Mulligan), who also passes Cassie, cannot avoid the death of her best friend Nina after Nina's rape allegations remain unsolved. Cassie dropped out of medical school, lives with her parents, and now works in a coffee shop. She spends her nights going to bars, acting drunk, letting guys pick her up, and taking revenge for trying to take advantage of who she thinks is a vulnerable victim.
The Skeevy Types series is played by actors known for playing personable men on television, including Adam Brody, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Sam Richardson, Chris Lowell, and Max Greenfield. Alison Brie, Connie Britton, Laverne Cox, Jennifer Coolidge, Molly Shannon, Alfred Molina and Clancy Brown are also part of the cast.
Cassandra eventually begins dating a former medical school colleague, Ryan (Bo Burnham), and appears to be on her way to rebuilding her life when the specter of what happened to Nina is confirmed again. The ending of the film - there are no spoilers here - puts a twist in a way that will shake the audience, some with shocked glee and others with exacerbated displeasure.
"I like films that make you wonder and don't tie things up and don't answer things for you," said Mulligan. "I don't like the simple answers and I think Emerald has given the audience so much appreciation ... and the fact that everything isn't wrapped in a nice ribbon so you can all go away and forget about it, I think it is so much a part of it. "
The film is being produced by LuckyChap Entertainment, the company owned by Margot Robbie, Tom Ackerley, Sophia Kerr and Josey McNamara, who also directed Robbie's lead role "Birds of Prey" earlier this year. The company was involved in the project early on, based on Fennell's pitch in the movie's opening scene.
"We could see what it was from day 1. There were no question marks," said McNamara. “Emerald had a very clear idea of what she wanted to do right away. And I think that gave us a really easy way to make it happen in terms of their vision. I think it was this clarity in what she wanted to do. It felt very unique to her and that there wouldn't be anyone who could really tell this story. "
Carey Mulligan and Bo Burnham in a moment of bliss from Promising Young Woman. (Merie Weismiller Wallace / SMPSP)
As part of Fennell's desire to keep the audience unbalanced - is that blood or ketchup running down Cassandra's arm? What do these colorful notes mean, which she makes in a notebook after her night outings? - There's a real romance in the film. Many of the scenes between Cassandra and Ryan are disarmingly cute, including the breathtaking moment they dance to Paris Hilton's 2006 single "Stars Are Blind" in a pharmacy.
Fennell named the song her favorite, and Burnham said how repeated listening made him appreciate it too.
"I think it does something similar to the whole movie, which just recaptures that kind of poppy, feminine aesthetic that people have banned as flat and decorative, and shows that they have a power and that there is depth there too . " said Burnham.
"If you dig past the surface, if you go beyond your aesthetic judgment about it, you actually see that there is actually something really dark and painful in this Parisian Hilton song," he added.
Regarding the stylized world of film with damp nightclubs, soft pastel tones in the café, or the hilarious Rococo decor in Cassie's childhood home, Fennell referred to the “beautiful trap” of films like “Midsommar”, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” and “Funny Games ”for the way they mix style, dark humor and a disturbing view of the world.
"I think I wanted the world to get closer to Cassie's point of view," said Fennell. “And so I wanted her to look completely harmless and inviting and funny, just as she hides in all clarity with her manicure, clothes and hair. Just like people don't take Britney Spears' music seriously. Sure they love it, but they may not take it as seriously as the Rolling Stones music. People don't really think makeup, fashion and other things are reserved for serious things, serious cinema, and serious people. And I personally disagree. I totally disagree.
“In the beginning I made up my mind: 'OK, these are the things I like. Some people won't and some people will. And I'll treat everything very unironically, ”said Fennell. “I love Paris Hilton and I love Britney. I love manicure. I love clothes. They don't make me a stupid person. I think they get fired a lot, things like that. And so I wanted to say, "Just because a girl looks like this doesn't mean she doesn't have a world of terror and anger in her."
For Mulligan, this similar feeling of subversion carried over to the entire film. In contrast to her everyday appearance, Cassandra conjures up elaborate disguises, from dreary office workers to grunge chic to girls with full glamor and even stripper nurses, so that their nightly missions can be taken over by different men. (Fennell makes a brief cameo with an online makeup tutorial.)
All of this has been carefully calculated in order to surprise the audience and treat serious and uncomfortable subjects in a way that they might find pleasant.
“We can't always tell these stories the same way. First, it's just boring to an audience, but second, people are going to reject the subject, or the maturity of the subject, and it's not a subject we can afford to get tired of, ”said Mulligan. “I remember when Emerald and I sat down for the first time, she said, 'Look, I just don't want to do a movie starring a woman in a gray cardigan staring out the window and crying. That's just not what it is. "
Carey Mulligan as Cassandra in the candy-colored "Promising Young Woman". (Focus functions)
Burnham joked that he was "happily offended" at being offered the role of a man who portrays himself as a nice guy and probably believes himself to be a guy who, when it comes down to it, can be anything but.
Burnham, who wrote and directed the film Eighth Grade, a likable portrait of a teenage girl, was intrigued by Fennell's portrait of male complicity, the way in which seemingly innocuous behavior makes room for people with more deliberately nefarious intentions.
"It always seemed strange to me that men would get so defensive when the conversation about #MeToo somewhere passed the most egregious monsters like Bill Cosby or Harvey Weinstein, when the conversation passed the black and white criminal behavior." said Burnham. “Obviously, if the problem is just getting the most famous serial criminals to jail, it would be much more solvable and less chaotic than it actually is. Reading this script felt like a really elegant, fun, and welcoming way to have this conversation.
“And that felt really valuable. The movie could really explore the more subtle ways men can be complicit in this stuff, in ways that don't feel like you're sitting down and talking. It's a fun story to watch. I didn't really realize how important this topic is in this way and on this scale until I read the script. "
As bold as her dance number is the cute scene in which Ryan first sees Cassandra in the cafe where she works. When he accidentally insults her for dropping out of medical school, she spits in his coffee before giving it to him. And he drinks it anyway.
Did Mulligan Really Spit Coffee in Burnham's?
“Real spit. And he drank it every time, ”Mulligan said with a mixture of pride and disbelief. “By the way, we had just met. We had a chemistry read. We had rehearsals for two hours or so. And then we filmed that on the first day. "
“I said, 'Hey Carey, it's not even your coverage. You can simulate it, "said Burnham with a laugh." She just started spitting in it when she was clearly off camera. There were at least two settings where I absolutely drank extra foam. It was good because it was literally the first scene we did. So it was a really good icebreaker. "
Bo Burnham as Ryan in Promising Young Woman. (Focus functions)
None of this interferes with the serious issues at the heart of the film and the way it deals with the real issues of getting on in life after a major trauma.
"I think it's a movie about how anger manifests itself in a particular person and how anger is likely to feel quite familiar to a lot of people," said Fennell. “I wanted to write a revenge film that focused on a real woman. And so that anger felt a lot more internalized and less violent.
"I think to me it's a movie about forgiveness versus punishment," said Fennell. “All Cassie does is because she loves someone and no one is going to admit that something that happened to the person she loves was wrong. So she can't get over it because no one is going to admit it. And I think that's something that we all feel very familiar with. "
As a guaranteed conversation starter, “Promising Young Woman” is perhaps above all a bundle of contradictions, just like the figure in the center. And Fennell wouldn't have it any other way.
“I have no answers. I was just trying to write something that was about this complicated and terrible and interesting to me, ”said Fennell. "What people talk about later, I would hope that part of it is self-reflection, for people who might have been part of that culture, what I would say is most people, certainly like my age, and feel like it's in Order is talk a little more openly about it.
"But really too, I made a movie that I wanted people to like and I want them to talk about both the movie and the stuff itself," said Fennell. “There's performance and the way we did it and the music and all that stuff. I think I had underestimated, because of the nature of the film and its content, that of course [the subject] is what everyone wants to talk about. But everything I feel is kind of in the movie. "
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.
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